Dark Roots and the Myth or Reality of a European Family History

Book review: A Crime in the Family, by Sacha Batthyany Swiss journalist Sacha Batthyany heard a disturbing rumor: near the end of the Second World War, his Aunt Margit was alleged to have participated in the massacre of hundreds of Jewish prisoners in the small Austrian town of Rechnitz. The crime took place during a party at her home attended by Nazi officers. He’s haunted, … Continue reading Dark Roots and the Myth or Reality of a European Family History

Advice From The Forests of Russian Fairytales

Book review: Ask Baba Yaga, by Taisia Kitaiskaia The Hairpin is one of those sites I always mean to read, then don’t. I’ve read some great pieces there, also some that are too hipster for my taste. Apparently one long-running feature of the site was an advice column, featuring the typical everyday problems of life, love, loss, and existential dilemma, only with a twist – … Continue reading Advice From The Forests of Russian Fairytales

“Imagine you have a country and no one to run it.”

Book review: The Man Without a Face, by Masha Gessen “Imagine you have a country and no one to run it. This was the predicament that Boris Yeltsin and his inner circle thought they faced in 1999.” What do we really know about Vladimir Putin? What beyond the carefully orchestrated and controlled images, crafted to underscore his macho masculinity and infallible savior persona, is really … Continue reading “Imagine you have a country and no one to run it.”

A Voice from the Gulag

Book review: The Day Will Pass Away, by Ivan Chistyakov So even my inner word recedes day by day into eternity until it reaches freezing point. You start believing they can make you lose all emotion. Yet every day brings you nearer to freedom. Only, what kind of path are you walking to get there? A path of defeats, misery and rage. A path that makes you even more … Continue reading A Voice from the Gulag

Russia Through The Lens of Chelyabinsk

Book review: Putin Country, by Anne Garrels “When the meteor hit Chelyabinsk, it blazed across the sky, spewed out its shards, and then sank quietly into a lake. That’s what many hoped the breakup of the Soviet Union would be like. It would end with a compliant Russia as benign as the rock that is now sitting in Chelyabinsk’s museum. That has not occurred. The shards continue to … Continue reading Russia Through The Lens of Chelyabinsk

Memory, History, And Family Roots in Latvia

Book review: Among the Living and the Dead, by Inara Verzemnieks “This is why I had journeyed to my grandmother’s lost village, nestled at the edge of Latvia, which is itself nestled at the edge of Europe’s psychic north, south, east and west, or, as Pope Innocent III described it…’the edge of the known world’.  Because I imagined, maybe, I might find her again in the old … Continue reading Memory, History, And Family Roots in Latvia

An American’s Insights into Russia, 1995-2005-2015

Book review: Bears in the Streets, by Lisa Dickey No fewer than six people in six different cities (and four different time zones) had informed me that this is what Americans think. “Bears in the streets,” I realized, was the apparently ubiquitous shorthand for the Russians’ feeling that the West doesn’t take them seriously enough – that we think they’re primitive or backward. Lifelong Russophile Lisa … Continue reading An American’s Insights into Russia, 1995-2005-2015

What Makes the Russians Tick

Book review: Russians, by Gregory Feifer “Russia has no need of sermons (she has heard too many), nor of prayers (she has mumbled them too often), but of the awakening in the people a feeling of human dignity, lost for so many ages in mud and filth.” – Vissarion Belinsky on the Russian Orthodox Church in a letter to Nikolai Gogol, 1847 This quote opens a chapter of Russians titled “Cold … Continue reading What Makes the Russians Tick

Trekking the Urals for a Soviet Mystery

Book review: Dead Mountain, by Donnie Eichar In February 1959, nine experienced hikers died under mysterious circumstances on a cross-country ski trip in the Ural Mountains. They were university students, longtime friends, and accustomed to the harsh conditions and remote, exerting atmosphere of hiking and skiing during winter at the border of Siberia. When search parties were dispatched to the region, some distance from Yekaterinburg (then … Continue reading Trekking the Urals for a Soviet Mystery

Vignettes from a Communist Childhood

Book review: The Girl from the Metropol Hotel, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is one of contemporary Russia’s most loved and accoladed author/playwrights, famous for her books of “scary fairytales”(There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby) and “love stories” (There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband and He Killed Himself) with a distinctly Russian twist. In her memoir, The Girl from … Continue reading Vignettes from a Communist Childhood

Tigers in the Wild: Observations from Siberia

Book review: Great Soul of Siberia, by Sooyong Park Back in 2010, I read a book so good that even while I was reading it I knew it was going to be hard to top. It was around the time I was shifting to reading primarily nonfiction, and John Vaillant’s The Tiger was influential in my making that shift. I remember staying home on a Friday night, so caught … Continue reading Tigers in the Wild: Observations from Siberia

Outsiders Bearing Witness to Revolution

Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport Helen Rappaport, author of 2014’s popular history The Romanov Sisters, among other titles on history and royals both Russian and otherwise, explains in her acknowledgments for Caught in the Revolution that while working as a historian she was struck by “…how much seemed to have been written about the revolution by Russians, … Continue reading Outsiders Bearing Witness to Revolution